Sunday, September 25, 2011

Separating and Reforming: The true and the pure Church

In my debate with Frank Turk earlier this year I make the differentiation between a "true church," and a "pure church." What is the difference between the two?

As I have argued, the church is to be defined by the marks of a true church, biblically the three marks which constitute the true church: the right preaching of God's Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. The idea is that we should join a true church and hold fast to her, since the local church body is the place where God calls us into as a manifestation of His kingdom on earth.

A pure church however has to do with holiness. As such, it is about being existentially holy and blameless before God and Man. Since all of us are still sinners, a pure church is something to strive for but something which is impossible this side of heaven.

The bad press that the doctrine of separation has garnered is due to the inability to differentiate between a true church and a pure church. Movements such as Dispensationalism perceive the doctrine of separation to be one aimed towards the production of a pure church, as the subtitle of the book by Fundamentalist scholar Ernest Pickering states [Earnest Pickering, Biblical Separation: the Struggle for a Pure Church, 2nd Ed. (Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2008)]. But if we separate because of the failure of the church or people in the church to behave as Christians, then nobody can be a church member, ever. The many church splits and schisms in Fundamentalism is due to the focus on being a pure church now on earth. Such is implicitly perfectionistic in ecclesiology, and the focus on purity leads to nasty splits over insignificant minutia of things the Scriptures do not make plain, like whether (in the Dispensationalist view) the Rapture is pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib (probably one of the dumbest theological controversy ever).

As opposed to the separatism of the Dispensationalists and Fundamentalists, the Reformed doctrine of separation deals with whether the church is a true church or not. It focuses on what makes a church a church. And therefore it does not have the problems of schisms and church splits that Fundamentalism creates. In so far as Christians embrace the Reformed version of the doctrine of separation, and not the Dispensational variety, the Church will keep the main thing the main thing and order its life accordingly, for the health of the Church and the glory of Christ.

Perspicuity and Populism: A Response to William B Evans

Over on the Reformation21 blog, William B Evans published a blog post critiquing G.I. Williamson in his promotion of what is known as "young earth creationism," or creation in 6/24 days. Believing that this topic is indeed very important for the church at large, I would like to offer my two cents worth to respond to Evans' post.

Evans' critique focuses on the idea of perspicuity. This he does by first stating that many people can claim to see as the plain truth of Genesis their respective views on creation. Secondly, Evans deals with the idea of what he calls "exegetical populism." As he questions, "why this privilege of a hermeneutic of the unlearned? When did naïveté become a prerequisite for proper exegesis?" Lastly, Evans dealt with the issue of tolerance, and calls for the tolerance of other views who have existed in the Reformed community.

To Evans' first view, I grant that many people think that what they see as the plain truth of Genesis may be things like the Analogical Days view or some other theory. But this is besides the point. We believe that as creatures who are situated in this world, we are very much influenced by the thinking of this world. Those who claim that the plain truth of the creation account is theory X may be indeed subconsciously interpreting the text in light of modern science. After all, in this "Enlightened" age where they are taught from young the theory of evolution and deep time, it is indeed very possible that such theories are seriously embedded in their patterns of thought and thus this influenced their reading of the creation account even without them conscious of such an influence.

This ties in with Evans' view of exegetical populism. To an extent, Evans' critique is right. We should not privilege a hermeneutic of the unlearned or extol the virtues of naïveté. But this I fear is a strawman critique. The issue is not whether we think that ignorance is the greatest virtue when exegeting Scripture, but that only Scripture interprets Scripture. Therefore, it must not be the case that knowledge of the "facts" of modern science have any bearing on the interpretation of Scripture. In other words, can a person ignorant of the supposed facts of modern science while yet diligently study the Scriptures only and come up with fanciful theories such as the Day-Age theory? I suggest not. I would recommend that the mainly Western Reformed scholars visit the churches in the non-Western world and find out whether you can find these strange views of creation held to by the people in the churches. I suggest that one would find an absence of the Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age, or analogical day views being held there. Believers in those countries either believe in literal creation, or hold to limited inerrancy and relegate Genesis 1 and 2 to the category of metaphor or myth when faces with science, May I suggest that these views only exist because these Reformed churchmen confess to the Reformed Confessions and therefore the easy route of denying the historicity of Genesis is not open to them, thus necessitating the formulation of theories as to how to not deny the historicity of Genesis while embracing the findings of modern science?

This empirical experiment is not to suggest populism, but is to raise questions regarding both the supposed literal-ness of alternative views of the creation account, and the charge of naive populism. If it is true that the creation account when interpreted plainly allows for a plurality of interpretations, then why is it that you do not find people coming to the view of Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age or Analogical day by themselves? If those who are learned of the Scriptures yet ignorant of the "facts" of modern science did not hold to any one of these novel theories, then whence did these theories originate?

It is a historical fact that none of these theories can find any precedent before the 19th century. It has been pointed out that various positions on the days are held to by various people in church history. Indeed such is the case, but to stretch the relatively small variations held to by the ancient and reformation church to accommodate views such as the Framework hypothesis has no precedence in church history. As I have pointed out, the allegorists like Origen for example did not deny that Scripture taught literal creation. What they did was affirm the literal creation on the one hand, while finding ways to set the literal creation in the overall philosophy they embrace. They never was a doubt that the Scriptures had in mind 6 days of duration within reasonable parameters. None of them including John Calvin believed in anything even remotely like the Framework, Day-Age, or Analogical days. It is ridiculous that just because the length of the creation days were not universally agreed to be 24 hours therefore we can now extend the "day" to one million or one billion years or more, or just dispense with the length concept altogether. It's just as if since the price of gas fluctuates periodically, therefore we can expect a possible price could be the equivalent of one month's salary of an average university graduate for one gallon of gas.

Evans' call for tolerance sounds strange, since one can read the denigration of young earth creationism and creation science by those who hold to the alternate views. When for example Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, an otherwise godly and eminent Reformed scholar, can attack young earth creationism by accusing creation science as being a pseudo-science [W. Robert Godfrey, God's Pattern for Creation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), p. 91], those of us who hold to young earth creationism wonder where is the call for tolerance then? Is the plea for tolerance only one way? Will the Reformed adherents of the Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age theory, Analogical view among others repent of their attack on young earth creationism and creation science, especially since I'm sure most of them are NOT scientists themselves?

As for the principle of exclusion, I do not see G.I. Williamson arguing for the expulsion of ministers who hold to these views. Even if that is what it leads to, don't we as Reformed men believe in the principle of always reforming according to the Scriptures? This is especially so since historically, most Christian theologians prior to the 19th century believe in some variation of literal 6 day creation, plus the phrase "in the space of six days" has confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF Chapt IV, Para 1). It must be said that the type of contortions Presbyterians go to evade the force of the phrase is an art form in and of itself.

Evans attempts to equate the issue of creation days with the views on the millennium. That however is a false analogy. The doctrine of creation days is based on two main passages of the narrative genre, plus a myriad of other verses here and there. The millennium however is only mentioned once in Rev. 20:4, and the book of Revelation is of the apocalyptic genre. The comparison is one of apples and oranges. The reason why we tolerate difference regarding the views on the millennium is that Scripture is not clear on the topic. Is Evans arguing that protology is just as vague and unclear as the millennium?

Evans closed with a quote by Bavinck. While Bavinck is certainly a notable theologian, he is not always right. This is especially so since he seems to have a naive view of science. As I have argued elsewhere, science is paradigmatic. It is not some absolute objective reality that is definitely true. We do not have to embrace the scientific realism that ignores the actual history of scientific progress and the inherent logical flaws in the scientific method. Since science is not the absolute authority it claims to be, why should we be bothered with looking ridiculous "in the eyes of unbelieving scientists"? They are the ones who need to be challenged as to their methodological naturalism and positivist empiricism, not they challenging us.

In conclusion, Evans' response fails to mute the criticism of the other non-literal views of creation. The problems with the other non-literal view of creation remain, and sooner or later we need to deal with the issue in a more definitive manner.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reformed and Evangelical?

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." (Rom. 1:16-17)

... you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15)

What is an Evangelical? (Title of book by Martin Lloyd-Jones)

What is an Evangelical? Are the Reformed and Presbyterians Evangelical? The answer varies. However, in Evangelicalism as a movement, the distinctives of Evangelicalism both old and new, it seems that those who are truly Reformed and Confessional cannot be called Evangelical.

The term "Evangelical" comes from the Greek word ευαγγελιον which refers to the Gospel. Etymologically, anyone and everyone who confesses and believe in the Gospel can be called "evangelical." In that sense of course, all Reformed Confessionalists (those who place a strong emphasis on the Creeds and Reformed Confessions of the Church) are evangelical.

"Evangelical" however comes to mean something more than just believing in the Gospel. The Old Evangelicalism was born sometime around the time of the decline of Reformed Scholasticism and the rise of German and British Pietism, and is largely remembered for the growth in world missions. The New Evangelicalism arose in the 1950s thereabouts with its iconic figure Bill Graham and his crusades, as they rejected the negativity associated with Dispensational Fundamentalism, yet without turning back to the Old Evangelicalism.

Historically, there are differences between America and Britain as to how these groups developed. In America, the Fundamentalist/ Modernist controversy creates two main groups: the Liberals and the Dispensational Fundamentalists. There were of course other groups but these were the main groups present who call themselves Protestant Christians. The Dispensational leader and pastor C.I. Scofield was instrumental, together with D.L. Moody, in bringing many people to embrace Dispensationalism in some form or another. The Old Evangelicalism was not generally well known, and the type of Evangelicalism that prevailed was the New Evangelicalism.

Two main factors made British Evangelicalism different in tenor to that in America. The first factor was the outright capitulation of most of the Protestant churches to Liberalism. The only person who sounded the alarm over the infiltration of German Higher Criticism and liberalism in general was the Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon in the later days of his life. For his effort to warn the churches, he was rewarded with demonization from his opponents that he is merely crying wolf, and disfellowshipped as a trouble-maker. The Downgrade Controversy, as it become to be known, was by and large a bump in the ascendancy of liberalism in its destruction of the faith.

The second factor was the general absence of Dispensational influence in the churches. No doubt there were Dispensational churches, but by and large Dispensationalism was not embraced by evangelical churches. This greatly reduced much of the animosity and nasty bickering and infighting that Dispensationalism seems to bring along with it from its very inception.

Old Evangelicalism therefore was more prominent in Britain than in America. The New Evangelicalism originated in America as a rejection of American Fundamentalism, and was then exported to exported in part to Britain. Britain of course has her own New Evangelicals like the late John Stott and J.I. Packer (before he left the UK), but their version of New Evangelicalism has more to do with the denominational focus on Anglican polity rather than any reaction to Fundamentalism.

The last prominent Old Evangelical was Martin Lloyd-Jones, and a prominent New Evangelical who however later regretted the worldliness the movement has descended into was Francis Schaeffer, in his book The Great Evangelical Disaster. New Evangelicalism in its purest form is merely doctrinal Old Evangelicalism with a different spirit of ministry, a different spirit that turned disastrous as the lust for academic respectability and influence in the world leavened the Church with false doctrine and worldliness which then had to be excised.

So then, what is an Evangelical? What is it in its purest form? The book of Martin Lloyd-Jones entitled What is an Evangelical (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992) gives us a few characteristics of Evangelicals. They are as follows:

  1. Preservation of the Gospel
  2. Entirely subservient to the Bible
  3. Learning from history
  4. Maintaining negatives
  5. No subtractions or additions to the truth
  6. Being watchful
  7. Distrust of reason in the form of philosophy
  8. Low view of the sacraments, as opposed to Rome
  9. Takes a critical view of history and tradition
  10. Ready to act on beliefs
  11. Simplify everything
  12. Dislikes formalism and liturgies and ceremonies
  13. Tremendous emphasis on the rebirth
  14. Focused on "essentials." Regards the conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism as a secondary issue

In this light, are Reformed Confessationalists Evangelicals? Reformed Confessionalists will take exception to principle 7, and probably for some 12. Item number 13 divides those who are for the First Great Awakening and those who reject it, but Confessionalism consists of these two groups.

The main issues of objection are items 7 and 14. For principle #7, of course we agree with the general focus on a skepticism of the philosophies of Man. Reformed theology has always been against Rationalism. However, the main issue here is that we recognize that doing philosophy is unavoidable. To think that one is "merely reading the Bible" and being independent of philosophy is a mirage. One can either be conscious of one's philosophical tendencies, or one can pretend that one is doing Bible study in a vacuum. Just like traditions, those who deny they have any are often the most blinded by the philosophy they actually believe in.

Principle number 14 is however the one thing that separates Reformed from Evangelical. The Evangelical tends towards confessional and ecclesiastical minimalization. That is why Lloyd-Jones can see Arminianism as a "non-essential" issue. In his estimation, it is because one does not have to believe either Calvinism or Arminianism to be saved, and therefore the issue is non-essential for him.

This comes down to the differences in our understanding of the Church. According to Scripture, the Church is to be a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). That is the primary focus of the Church, where God is to speak to His people and minister to them through Word and Sacrament. We acknowledge that for the purpose of salvation, some things are "essential" and others are "non-essential." However, salvation is distinct from the job of the church. The church should evangelize of course, but the primary thing that the Church is is a pillar and buttress of the truth. While having looser standards for salvation, what the Church deemed orthodox and acceptable should be much stricter.

It is in this that we are not "Evangelicals." Classical Arminianism is a serious heresy condemned by the Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619, and the Arminian ministers were thrown out of the churches. In the Church, there must be an understanding of confessional maximalism in order for the church to fulfill her duty, although that must not be demanded of her members since salvation is not so construed.

Reformed Confessationalism is therefore not evangelical in any of the senses as found in the two movements. We are uneasy over the minimalization of truth in the churches, we are at times uneasy over the emphasis on revival as it tends to downplay the common operations of the Spirit through preaching, sacrament, and catechism, some having more unease over this than others.

So are we Evangelicals? No. It is especially in this compromised climate that the term "evangelical" has become tainted. While we regards Evangelicals as our brothers and sisters in Christ, we disagree on their doctrine of the church, and disagree on the pietistic outlook of their practice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Recommendation: When the Wicked Seize A City, by Chuck and Donna McIlhenny

In the midst of my busyness, I decided to read this book which I have recently bought. With an eye-catching title, I however wasn't sure what was the exact content of the book. Having read it now, I am of the opinion that this should be a must-read book for Christians who are now still in this world.

When the Wicked Seize A City by Chuck and Donna McIlhenny goes through the struggles of Chuck McIlhenny and his family as they pastor an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in probably the most immoral cities in the world: San Francisco. It details the outright persecution and hatred the Homofascists have against Christians, and the Homosexual agenda that aims to subvert and destroy the family, and society with it. The death threats, hate mail, and even one arson attack on his house in which the house was set on fire in an attempt to silence him. All this is in "tolerant" San Francisco, where much is tolerated but the Gospel is certainly not.

If one wants to see how homofascists with power work to ram their agenda down everyone's throat, and the proper Christian response to it, check out this book. When the wicked indeed seize a city, you will see that standing for Christ will cost a lot. 2 Tim. 3:12 still remains as Scripture, and violent persecution of Christians exist even in the mirage of "Christian America."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Federal Vision Baptists?

Since John Piper's invitation of FV heretic Douglas Wilson, the idea is floated about that FV is merely an extension of Presbyterian view of the covenant. It is thus deemed inconceivable that there are Federal Vision Baptists, but the reality is there are Baptist churches in the CREC denomination, the flagship of the Federal Vision.

Is the Federal Vision REALLY just something that stems from the Presbyterian and Reformed view of the covenant? Those who think so do not either realize (1) the essence of the Federal Vision error, or (2) the covenantal theology embraced by the Particular and Reformed Baptists.

The essence of the FV error is not their view of the application of the Covenant. The essence of the FV error is in their dialectic between covenant and decree, and between the visible and invisible church. In other words, nothing in the FV has anything with regards to the application of baptism to infants. It is thus theoretically possible to believe in FV and still be a baptist, since believing that people can be covenantally elect while being able to fall away has nothing to do with infant baptism at all.

Secondly, those who do so do not realize that Particular and Reformed baptists can and do embrace Covenant Theology in a modified form. The major difference of course is that they believe that the sign of the covenant of baptism is to not to be applied to infant because infants do not profess faith. In other respects however, there is much similarity.

One could very well believe in everything in the Joint FV Profession and still believe that Infants should not be baptized because they do not exercise faith. Noticeable absent after all in the Joint FV Profession is anything mentioned regarding Infant Baptism.

Baptists such as John Piper should not therefore be playing around with fire. To think that this is a "Presbyterian" issue is naive. I don't think we want to wait for FV to infiltrate and subvert many Baptist churches before they start to realize that there is a problem at hand.

Conversation with a Federal Vision pastor

by: Wes White

It seems that Federal Visionist Douglas Wilson was asked the same type of questions Pastor Wes White has posted on his blog some time back. A commenter on my blog took offense at my labeling of Douglas Wilson as a heretic, and directed me to the two videos someone did with Doug Wilson using the same questions Wes White placed in the imaginary conversation in the above video.

The two videos can be seen in two parts here (Part 1, and Part 2).

Let's examine Wilson's answers as follows.


Inquirer: I’m not a believer, but I have been listening to Christian radio a lot. I heard your ad on the radio, and I decided to visit your Church and see what it’s about. ... I have been thinking that I want to become a Christian, what do I need to do?

Wilson: Believe in Jesus. So... um... there are different ways to answer the question. So when you say, "What do I need to do?" if you are assuming what good works do I need to perform in order to be worthy to become a Christian, then the answer is none. You can't do anything. You can't do anything. But when.. the Gospel is preached.. preached in the book of Acts and the people say, "What shall we do?" Peter said, "Repent and be baptized." And what that is is a shorthand form of "Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus and join yourselves to God's people." That's a summary. And so, the moment of becoming a Christians is when you repent and believe, and the shaping life of discipleship occurs in the context of a church.

Wilson's answer may sound orthodox to some, only because Federal Visionists are very good at obfuscation. None of the FVists ever claim to believe in salvation by works. Rather, their error is that they believe in the faith that justifies as being a "living faith" similar to how Roman Catholics believe in it. From the classical formula of faith being defined as cognitio, assentia and fiducia, FVists smuggle in works through the backdoor, not the front.

We note that Wilson's answer includes the idea of joining a church. We note here that the question posed by the inquirer is not "What good works do Christians do?" but "What do I need to do to become a Christian?" This proves the confusion of justification and sanctification by the FVists. Becoming a Christian is not predicated by whether a person joins a church or not. Which church after all did the thief on the cross joined himself to? What happens to someone who becomes a Christian in Saudi Arabia and cannot find a church to attend? Is he or is he not a Christian if he cannot find a church to attend?

Inquirer: Well, actually I was baptized as an infant, does that mean that I am a Christian?

Wilson: It means you are covenantally bound to Christ. So consequently if you are baptized in infancy, assuming it was baptized by an orthodox Christian church — if you were not baptized by a sect or a cult — but if you were baptized by a Christian church, that means that you are returning to the faith now. You are not coming to the faith for the first time. You have been covenantally connected to Christ, and now if you are believing in Jesus genuinely for the first time, then you are finally going to be... your profession of your heart is going to match up with your baptism which is the way it was supposed to be.

We can notice the hedging of Wilson's answer. While certainly not as plain as White's imaginary answer, nothing that Wilson says here contradicts White's assessment of Wilson's answer. According to Wilson, the inquirer is considered covenantally a Christian but has not actually returned to the faith until he believes. The term for this is called "covenant breakers." In his debate with James White, Wilson affirms Roman Catholic baptism and argues for its validity. This shows us the lengths to which Wilson believes in his "objective covenant." The hedging against sects and cults is only for those who deny the Trinity as Wilson states in that debate, not for those who deny the Gospel as the Roman Catholics do.

So Whites' imaginary answer is essentially correct. Covenant breakers are still considered Christians, just believers who are fallen away from grace and must return back to grace in order to be saved.

Inquirer: But how do I get forgiveness of my sins and new life?

Wilson: By asking God to forgive your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. So Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried, He rose again from the dead. Because of that, we can have forgiveness of sin. So when you cry out to God, you are to cry out to God in Jesus' name, which is shorthand for saying, "I have sinned and I have no basis for appealing to you other than the death , burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ." So because Jesus died, you died to sin. Because Jesus rose, you are freed from that sin. So you have to come to God through Jesus, through faith in Jesus.

The issue here is not whether what Wilson says is wrong. Of course the answer is correct. But that is besides the point since apart from baptism, you are not saved according to the FV system. The more pertinent question to be asked here is whether Wilson thinks that a person can be saved apart from baptism and joining the church, and his answer seems to be no.

White's imaginary answer goes to the heart of FV sacramentalism. It is not referring to the existential state of "returning to faith," but the so-called objective covenantal reality which is true of every person in this so-called "objective covenant." Baptism in the FV system confers the reality of new life and forgiveness of sins, but it is lost existentially when a person "falls away from his baptism," whether that occurs at birth after infant baptism, or later when one backslide as an adult.

Inquirer: Wow. What I heard on the radio made me think I had to be converted or born again first. Is that true?

Wilson: Yes. Jesus said that unless you are born again, you wouldn't be able to see the kingdom. So none of this makes any sense to an unregenerate, unconverted person. So.. um.. the Bible teaches that God gives life and then we are alive. God gives eyes and then we see. God gives ears and then we hear. So the illustration I am fond of using is when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, He was calling him out of a condition of death. And when Jesus called Lazarus, it wasn't a case of Jesus pulling and Lazarus pushing. Lazarus wasn't helping. After Jesus quickened him, after Jesus brought him to life, then Lazarus did a bunch of stuff. So yes, you must be converted; you must be born again; you must be ... your heart must be changed. And when it is, then all of this stuff we are going to be talking about on Christian discipleship and the follow up and the result of that will then makes sense to you.

No one denies that the Federal Vision believes that existentially repentance is necessary. But what is the relationship of this and the covenant reality? We note here that in White's imaginary conversation, the relation is this: that believers are to be assured by their objective covenant reality. In his word "Just walk according to the grace that you have received in baptism." If one wants to fault White here for not admitting that FVists do believe in the existential need to repent, that is straining at a gnat to swallow a camel.

Inquirer: This is amazing. I was wondering if I would get to heaven, but what you’re saying is basically that in baptism I have a free ticket to heaven. Am I understanding that correct?

Wilson: Um... no. In baptism you don't have a free ticket to heaven. If someone is baptized and if they don't have faith — they don't have a living evangelical faith in Christ. If someone is baptized and they don't believe in Jesus, and the Bible says they we must believe in Jesus, then that baptism is a ticket to hell, not to heaven. If a husband puts a ring on in a wedding ceremony, that does not make him automatically faithful no matter what. A baptism is like a wedding ring. And so it is a covenantal sign and formalizes your obligations. So if a faithful husband, if someone who truly loves his wife, puts his ring on and said, "This means that I am the happiest man alive." Well, because he really loves his wife, it does mean that. If a cheating, adulterous hound puts the ring on, does this automatically mean that he is happily married? Well, he is an idiot. It doesn't work that way. So if you Baptism is just like the Gospel preached. When you hear the Gospel preached, hearing sermons does not put you in with God — you have to respond with faith. With everything God offers, the only appropriate response is faith. So God offers the Gospel in a sermon, faith is the response. If God offers Himself in the sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the only appropriate response is believing Him, trusting Him, faith.

But then what is "faith"? According to the FVists, faith must be living and therefore works is smuggled in through redefinition of faith as including "fiducia." Can a person has faith apart from joining a church? Can the thief on the cross be saved by faith, or is his faith deficient because he did not join any church or has not gone through "Christian discipleship and appropriate follow up"?

So if we want to nuance White's answer, the answer to the question by Wilson is simply, "No, you get these benefits, but only if your faith includes the living component to it."

Inquirer: But I keep hearing on the radio that we are justified without works. Now, is that true?

Wilson Justified apart from works, yes. We are not justified by anything we do, or prepare ourselves to do. In Rom. 9, it is said that it is not of him who wills, of him who runs, but it is God who shows mercy. God doesn't save us because of good works, doesn't save us because we sang in the choir, doesn't save us because we were in the Boy Scouts, doesn't save us because of our boys(? unintelligible) should like... none of that. So.. um... When people are saved, it is because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ being given to them as a gift plus nothing.

Same reply as above. What exactly is "faith"?

Inquirer: So, I can lose my justification?

Wilson No. What God gives, GOD gives. So if someone is um... one of the elect, then (you may have pick up on the radio if you are asking questions of a Calvinistic pastor). So we believe that God has settled and determined that who is going to be saved and who lost. Um... from all eternity. If someone has, ... if God has begun a good work in one of the elect's life, then He will complete the good work that Ge began. That doesn't mean that someone cannot be attached to a church, be it baptism or false profession and baptism or all the different ways that people join a church, the wheat field as Jesus said has tares in it - there's weeds in the wheat field. Ummm.. but those people who fall away are people who fall away who they ... never had the root of the matter in them. If people are truly converted by God, one of the elect, then they are going to persevere, eh.. to the end.

The problem here is that the FVists bifurcate on the definition of election. The orthodox line will be given when they deal with what they call "decretal election." But the issue is that they believe that this is not possible to know so we must focus on "covenantal election." Those who are covenantally elected can and do fall away, and this is the problem in their theology. So decretally, nobody can lose their salvation. But covenantally, one can lose and gain one's salvation, depending on whether one "perseveres in faith."

Instead of believing in two ways of being in the covenant as per 1 Jn. 2:20, they believe that there are two ways of being elected. Those who are in the covenant are all truly elected but can become reprobate if they do not keep up their perseverance in the covenant. So such people who fall away were indeed at one time truly justified.

So, can one lose one's justification? According to FV, yes and no. Wilson gives the PR answer by thinking of it along the lines of decretal election, but if one deals with covenantal election, then one can see the error of the FV.

We must remember how this impacts people in the church. Someone who is joined the church will be said to be truly justified, and if he falls away then he will be said to be not justified. Yes, it is not a losing of justification in the abstract decretal notion, but do all these nuances matter in the life of the church? What happens is that at one time, the person X will be said to be justified. At another time, the same person X will be said to be not justified. The fact of the matter is that justification can be lost in the FV system, no matter how one desires to nuance it.

Wilson Right, it's not possible for one of the elect to lose their justification. Justification is the declaration that God makes over a person at the point where they are converted. If someone is decretally elect, to use confessional language, if someone is decretally elect, and God justifies them in that decretal, that forensic declaration - that is not possible to lose. You can't lose it, so it's useless to talk about getting it back. If somebody is a false professor, if they come into the church, don't have the root of the matter in them, not truly converted, are they part of the Bride? Do they participate in a covenantal, general way um... in the blessings of the Yes. Um.. and I would use the language the Westminster Confession uses: Unconverted people in the visible church share in the common operations of the Spirit. So, there is some measure of blessing for them there. Ummm.... but it is not final blessing; it is not a blessing that cannot be lost; it does not them any good in the end. So it is a common operation of the Spirit... the kind of efficacious justification, no, you can't lose it and therefore can't get it back.

Same answer as above. Wilson focuses on decretal language, yet the main issue here is that the covenantal election in the FV is said to be just as real and objective.

Inquirer: So, can I have any assurance that I will be in heaven? Since many Christians don’t get to heaven, how do I know I’m not one of them?

Wilson: Ok, well. Many professing Christians don't get to heaven. Many covenantal Christians don't get to heaven. But in 1 John 5:13, John writes this, "I write this to you, so that you may that you have eternal life." So knowledge of salvation, knowledge of ... knowledge and assurance of justification, salvation is available and proclaimed through the Gospel, through the various means that God has presented the Gospel to His people, and so that is a ....ummm... that's to be considered the norm. Knowledge that you are loved of God, that you are accepted by Him, that should be the Christian norm. So if someone says... ummm... that what you mean to say that there are baptized Christians who are going to hell? So if that is the case, I am a baptized Christian, how do I know that I am not going to hell? Well, the answer to that is He is a skunk you know? It says in Gal. 5 that the works of the flesh are manifest, the works of the flesh are plain. So if someone is a drinking, whoring cocaine-using person and living like the devil, um.... well, there is no mystery why he is lost. If you love Jesus and you love His people, and you.. worship Him faithfully, and you love the things of God, um... there is no reason to be unsettled in your assurance at all. Martin Luther was once asked, "How can I know I am a Christian?" And Luther said, "Well, say your prayers, man." Look to Jesus, look to Christ. There is no assurance except looking at Christ.

The problem comes about because those who are covenantally elected are said to be truly saved, not that they may be saved. If they are truly saved yet they can be lost, why should those of us who are similarly covenantally elected not be fearful whether we can be similarly lost, since we cannot after all know God's decrees? The answer to look to Christ is correct, but that is irrelevant since after all, the covenantally elect who fall away also looked to Christ while they were still within the church as saved people.

Of course, people can ignore that fact and continue to gain true assurance through looking at Christ, but just simple thinking will show that that hope is logically inconsistent given the teachings of the FV that covenantal election and justification, which is truly present in those who fall away, can be lost. Since one cannot know whether one is decretally elect of not, the fact that one look to Christ cannot be an indicator of whether one is truly saved or not, as the covenantally elect who fell away did looked to Christ too. Therefore, only perseverance in looking to Christ saves, making the action itself a work.

In conclusion, this "conversation" solves nothing with respect to the heresy of the Federal Vision. It does not absolve them of anything at all. It only shows how the FV confuses people with the use of their own lingo on the "objective covenant" thus making salvation conditional upon perseverance while at the same time using the same language of unconditionality and thus sounding orthodox, while limiting the unconditionality of the Covenant of Grace to God's decrees.

Response to Warren Cruz: The Great Minds fallacy

Van Tillian Warren Cruz continues on promoting Vantillianism, this time around stating that "Great Minds Reject Univocity." It always amuses me how Vantillians argue, this time even more so.

First of all, the whole post is logically fallacious. Great minds think a lot of things, but their thinking so does not make it right. The logical fallacy is called appeal to authority. Great minds promote evolution as truth (ie the late Stephen Jay Gould), but I don't see many Reformed Christians using the same logic and capitulating to the embrace of evolution, at least not yet.

Secondly, we have a total lack of what exactly "univocity" is. The whole Vantillian polemic on univocity becomes an exercise in superior linguistic bashing. There is a certain type of jargon to use, but as long as "univocity" is condemned, everything is fine. No one bothers to define what "univocity" actually means, except that it has the connotation of denying the Creator/ creature distinction. How exactly that is the case is always not spelt out, and one has to attempt to understand this cliquish group in understand their elitist jargon.

I have tried in this respect to understand Van Til, and the result has been this post of mine. As I have written, Van Til distorts language in order to attempt to defend an important truth — the Creator/ creature distinction. The problem therefore with Van Til and Vantillians is their manifest distortion of language. It is almost like a cult in this sense — that unless one agrees as to their special jargon one cannot understand them.

Unfortunately, I prefer to use normal English, as I am sure most people do. I therefore reject the Vantillian novelty, and prefer the imperfect but mostly true teachings of Gordon Clark.

P.S.: As an aside, the quote by Trueman says nothing about "univocity" and nothing that a Clarkian does not accept.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Van Til and the arrogance of philosophical psycho-analysis

My [Van Til's] notion of the incomprehensibility of God is, therefore, as the poles apart from what is today called modern irrationalism. And from your point of view [referring to GWF Hegel], my doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God must be hopelessly determinist and rationalist.

— Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd Ed. (ed. by William Edgar; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), p. 294

The later part of Van Til's work sees Van Til imagining an encounter of Calvin (made in Van Til's image of course) with the idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Hegel and Kierkegaard represents in their philosophy the extremes of rationalism and irrationalism respectively. Hegel dislikes [Immanuel] Kant's noumenal/ phenomenal distinction, and rejects it for total comprehension of everything in the world through the dialectical process. Kierkegaard in horror at the rationalism of Hegel agreed that the thesis/ antithesis pair exists, but that no synthesis is ever possible and therefore resolution has always to be via an existential [and irrational] leap of faith.

As an application of Van Til's philosophy, it is indeed intriguing how Van Til attempts to navigate the troubled waters between rationalism and irrationalism. The approach however was a mess. It is interesting that Van Til near the end starts psycho-analyzing his opponents as to how they would respond to his particular formulation of the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God.

The problem comes when Van Til seems to think that Hegel will think that his doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God (as Van Til defines it) is deterministic and rationalistic. In fact, this is how Van Til navigates the "central path" between the two extremes. According to Van Til, rationalists will think that his theory is "hopelessly determinist and rationalist" as Hegel denies the knowability of God (p. 293), while irrationalists will of course think the same. As Van Til said,

We may therefore imagine Hegel and Kierkegarrd as standing together as irrationalists and indeterminists against Calvin [as remade in Van Til's image] the rationalist and determinist. They will say to Calvin that since it is impossible for him to know the mind of his god exhaustively by his own admission and assertion, therefore he ought with them to become an irrationalist. (p. 291)

As someone who has more than a mere interest in philosophy, this entire imaginary apologetic encounter shows the defect of Van Tillian philosophy and apologetics. It is extremely amazing that Van Til thinks that Hegel will say that Van Til's incomprehensibility of God is deterministic and rationalistic. In fact, Hegel as the ultimate rationalist will see Van Til's incomprehensibility of God thesis as just as irrational as Kant's noumenal/ phenomenal distinction. Van Til posits a dual reality (which all Christians hold to), and this dual reality will sound to Hegel like Kant's ontological dualism.

The idea of being above the fray when it comes to the rationalist/ irrationalist duality is very tempting. While it is true that biblical Christianity rises above the fray, it is not true that the world thinks that what any theologian teach is above the fray. Yes, both Hegel and Kierkegaard will team up against Van Til, but not for the reasons Van Til posited. Hegel will accuse Van Til of bringing back the ontological dualism of Kant and thus he is an irrationalist, while Kierkegarrd will regard Van Til as being a rationalist because he believes that Man can know the things of God not by a leap of faith. They will team up only because Van Til is an unwelcome guest in the conversation. Both sides see Van Til's incomprehensibility of God thesis as an a priori addition which has no basis of proof whatsoever — Hegel as a irrationalist addition, and Kierkegaard as a rationalist addition.

Hegel therefore will never think that Van Til's incomprehensibility of God teaching is deterministic and rationalist. In fact, the converse will very much be the case. And this is the problem with Van Tillian philosophy and apologetics. Firstly, by exactly correlating his philosophy to biblical truth, it makes any criticism of his philosophy analogous to the criticism of God and the Bible. Secondly, the fact that he misrepresents Hegel just to pigeonhole him into his neat system of categories reveals that Van Til''s philosophy and apologetics is not even representative of the actual condition of the world and her philosophies. It furthermore reveals Van Til's arrogance in not listening to what others have to say but instead just hear enough to pigeonhole them into the categories that he has already formed in his philosophy.

If Van Til can do this to Hegel, what makes us so sure that any of Van Til's critiques are similarly invalid? Why must we accept Van Til''s horrendous caricature of Gordon Clark's position? Why should we accept Van Til's criticism of Bavinck on the primacy of the intellect?

Van Til may be a brilliant mind, but one that is in a world of it's own refusing to properly interact with what others actually say. By conflating his philosophy with the teachings of Scripture, he has all but made his philosophy resistant to any sort of criticism, and those who embrace his philosophy likewise.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Univocity and Analogy: Van Til and the distortion of language

Thus every bit of knowledge on the part of man is derivative and reinterpretative. This is what we mean by saying that man's knowledge is analogical.

— Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd Ed. (ed. by William Edgar; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), p. 34

Van Til's concept of analogy is alluded to throughout his writings. Because God is the Creator, we cannot know univocally (as he does), yet neither do we know equivocally (never the truth). Instead we know analogically, by thinking God's thoughts after him. This is quite different from Thomas's [Aquinas] use of analogy, which amounts to a middle way between univocal and equivocal knowledge, whereby we may climb up closer to God's being without ever knowing his essence.

— Editor, Ibid., p. 97 footnote 41

As indicated at the outset of this work, we speak of all forms of reasoning in which man is assumed to be the final or ultimate reference point of predication in univocal reasoning. In contrast to this we speak of the form of reasoning employed by the Christian who recognizes that God is the ultimate reference point of predication as analogicalreasoning. Univocal here describes thinking that is exactly the same as God's thinking, a clear impossibility.

Ibid., p. 178 footnote 6


u-niv-o-cal (adj): Having only one meaning, unambiguous []

The issue of analogy and univocity has plagued the Clark-Van Til controversy since it occurred. What does Van Til means by analogy, and how should we think of the concept?

The quotes above from Van Til's book I think sufficiently aids us in understanding what Van Til meant by analogy. In Van Til's system, there is a huge emphasis on the Creator-creature distinction. That is of course well and good, but it is what one does with this that need to be evaluated.

The Creator-creature distinction in Van Til's thought means that one should not reason like Man in order to reach God. In order to know anything at all, Van Til asserts that one should reason from a Christian perspective.

Van Til accordingly defines his terms as follows: "Univocal" reasoning is to him thinking in the exact same manner as how God thinks. "Equivocal" thinking is to not-reason. "Analogical" thinking Van Til defines as thinking derivative thoughts re-interpreting what God has interpreted.

The funny thing here is that as a Clarkian, I absolutely agree that Christians are to think "derivative thoughts re-interpreting what God has interpreted," and Clark does too. According to Van Til's definition, most Clarkians would reason analogically.

The problem comes however with definitions. Clark and Clarkians in general use plain English as much as possible. As a sample definition in shows, the term "univocal" means "having only one meaning, unambiguous." It has to do therefore with the intended meanings of words and sentences. Therefore, using plain speech, the term "univocal" cannot refer to the manner of reasoning, but the content of propositions (not the form because the same sentence can mean two or more different propositions depending on factors including the socio-cultural environment)

Van Till's distinct philosophy and his definition of "univocal" is therefore contrary to the actual meaning of the word in English. This is especially when the adjective "univocal" is modifying the noun "knowledge." The term "univocal knowledge" means that the content is the same. In other words, instead of "univocal knowledge," we can substitute it for the phrase "literal" or "unambiguous knowledge."

As an adverb ("univocally"), the word could be used in the way Van Til uses it. However, this then is the difference between "univocally knowing X" and "knowledge of X is univocal." The former expression has the adverb "univocally" modifying the manner of "knowing" X, and therefore could convey the meaning that Van Til desires it to have. The latter however describes the content of X that we are knowing, viz that there is an overlap of sorts between the content of what God and what Man knows.

In this way, the univocity of knowledge ensure revelation is possible. It means that if God intends for us to know that "Justification is by Faith Alone," the truth would be conveyed to us and we would receive it. No doubt it may be the case that God's revelation is much more richer than what we have discovered so far with regards to this vital doctrine, but the key issue is that we have at least perceived part of what God intends to convey.

Van Til therefore creates de novo his own definitions of English words , and then uses his newly-fangled words to define what orthodoxy is. But such a tactic is entirely illegitimate, and as such we should reject the entire "univocal" and "analogy" terms altogether when describing the manner of our knowing anything. It is no thanks to Van Til therefore that we have confusion and the misrepresentation of Gordon Clark. After all, since when did a theologian get to judge the orthodoxy of another person based upon whether they agree with the form of his phrases made up of redefined words? Therefore, we should reject this redefinition of words, and use proper English.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rick Warren denies the Gospel, on tweet

Imputation is 1sided but fellowship with Christ is 2sided.Koinonia means PARTICIPATION! God want your passion,not passivity — Rick Warren via Twitter


I guess I should not be surprised, but when a supposed pastor think that the doctrine of imputation is (1)one-sided, (2)unimportant, then you know that the Gospel message is not believed by him. The focus on fellowship more than the Gospel sounds more like the unbiblical Eastern Orthodox teaching of theosis than the biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.

The part about passion seems more in line with the enthusiasm of radical Anabaptism. There is nothing wrong with passion per se, but there is everything wrong when passion is the goal. Even worse, Warren thinks that God wants our passion, as if God desires our good works and high emotions.

Warren does not believe in the biblical Gospel, no matter how much "paint" Piper uses in an attempt to whitewash him. His religion is American revivalist moral therapeutic deism, and should be treated as such.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Van Til the un-systematician

Quote set #1:

... my [Van Til's] disagreement with Kuyper does not pertain to the question whether formally believers and unbelievers think according to the same logical laws. I do not maintain that Christians operate according to new laws of thought any more than that they have new eyes or noses.

My only criticism of Kuyper was to the effect that this concept of metaphysical sameness must again by supplemented with the concept of ethical difference. The non-Christian uses the gifts of logical reasoning in order to keep down the truth in unrighteousness.

— Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed. (Ed. by K. Scott Oliphant; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 291

Quote set #2:

[Because of the Fall] The intellect of fallen man may, as such, be keen enough. It can therefore formally understand the Christian position. It may be compared to a buzz-saw that is sharp and shining, ready to cut the boards that come to it. Let us saw that a carpenter wishes to cut fifty boards for the purpose of laying the floor of a house. He has marked his boards. He has set his saw. He beings at one end of the mark on the board. But he does not know that his seven-year old son has tampered with the saw and changed its set. The result is that every board he saws is cut slantwise and thus unusable because [the board is] too short except at the point where the saw first made its contact with the wood. As long as the set of the saw is not changed, the result will always be the same.

Ibid., 97

When we say that sin is ethical, we do not mean, however, that sin involved only the will of man and not also his intellect. Sin involved every aspect of man's personality. All of man's reactions in every relation in which God had set him were ethical and not merely intellectual; the intellectual itself is ethical.

Ibid., 70

I have mentioned earlier that Cornelius Van Til is manifestly unsystematic. This can be seen while reading his books. The most charitable way of reading Van Til is to seek for understanding of the context in which the sentences are located, otherwise it can be clearly seen that Van Til contradicts himself countless times. Comparing the two sets of quotes above will expose a contradiction on the surface, of which Van Til did not help with his irrationalist appeal to "paradoxes" without explaining what "paradoxes" are and how exactly they work.

The most charitable reading of Van Til therefore attempts to understand why he says anything in Van Til's own context. For as Van Til wrote, the first quote shows that Van Til understands that logic and logical reasoning is not affected by either the Fall or regeneration. Both believers and unbelievers use the same logic laws, and Christians "do not .. operate according to new laws of thought any more than that they have new eyes or noses." Yet, Van Til seems to affirm the direct opposite in the second set of quotes on page 97 and page 70. In the first set Van Til seems to affirm the ontological immutability of reason; while in the second set Van Til seems to deny the ontological immutability of reason.

Reading the quotes in context will show that Van Til was trying to get at certain biblical truths in all three quotes. This surface contradiction therefore should not have existed. That they do exist therefore shows Van Til to be totally unsystematic, which is further complicated with his boasting in his aversion to be systematic, by masking such sinful actions (in expressing biblical truths in contradictory forms) as being pious and godly (under the guise of "paradox").

That the biblical truths behind the quotes are not actually contradictory can be seen by understanding them in context. The first quote is in reaction to the charge of irrationalism and of denying Kuyper's teachings by a critic Van Halsema. Van Til is here stating that he does not believe that reason is different between believers and unbelievers so that reasoning and communication is impossible between them. In the second quote, Van Til is trying to prove that the unbeliever's reason is defective (so that it cannot seek or understands God on its own) by an analogy. In the third quote, Van Til is trying to state the fact that the intellect itself cannot be trusted to be used as an instrument to lead us to truth as it is affected by sin.

When we read all of these quotes in context and understand them, we will realize that these three concepts that Van Til wanted to teach and defend are biblical and orthodox. The problem however comes when he adds his distinctive spin to teach and defend these truths, and then all of the logical problems rise up. Since the basic concepts are biblical, Van Til (and Vantillians too) treats any criticism of his teachings as an attack upon the biblical truths behind his teachings. The problem of course is not with the biblical concepts underlying Van Til's teachings, but Van Til's distinctive spin on the concepts which is careless, loose and not befitting of someone who is supposed to handle the truths of God's Holy Word.

The godly systematicians of God's Word use precise and measured language to ensure that no surface contradictions exist in their theologizing. In fact, that is what Reformed Scholasticism (and Medieval scholasticism in its method) is well known for. Certainly this is not to say that there are no mysteries left in the Bible. However, paradoxes are wrestled with and resolved in such a way that no contradictions are seen on the surface. For example, the early church came up with the "one essence, three persons" formula for speaking of the Trinity. Why did the early church not just leave it as "one person, three persons" and relegate the whole issue as a paradox reconcilable only by God? After all, if it was good enough for Van Til (who taught the "one person, three persons" heterodox theory), why was it not good enough for the early church fathers, who unlike Van Til were not blessed with the legacy of having available teachings of the giants of the faith?

By stating the teaching of the Trinity as "one essence and three persons," the early church resolved the paradox in favor of mystery. There is after all no formal contradictions between essences and persons! Now, what exactly are "essences" and "persons" can be discussed further, but as long as they are not ontologically equated, there is no contradiction in the formulation of the Trinity. Mystery yes, contradiction and paradox no.

The example of the church fathers is typical of godly systematicians through the ages. Van Til obviously is not one of them, being probably the most unsystematic systematician ever.

What shall we liken Van Til's thought? Van Til's teaching is just like taking the mirror of Reformed orthodoxy, smashing it to pieces, and then piecing them together with the addition of other fragments of glass that Van Til thinks should be part of the mirror. The result is a disparate amalgam consisting of sometimes large fragments of Reformed orthodoxy mixed with distinctive Van Tillian thought, and all this is meant to cohere together. Is it no wonder that with such confusion, Van Til has left behind a mixed legacy consisting of Vantillian Reformed orthodox, Frameans, Christian Reconstructionists, Theonomists, and Federal Visionists, all of whom claim Van Til as their spiritual godfather?

Whatever is orthodox in Vantillian thought can be found in better Reformed writers. Whatever good in Van Tillian thought in the realm of apologetics and philosophy has been said much better by others like Gordon Clark. If one really wants to learn the Reformed Christian faith, one would do well to avoid Van Til and read people like Calvin, Witsius, Turretin, Rutherford, Owen, and even [Richard] Muller. Ad fontes!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Debunking the Vantillian myth: Gordon Clark on Reason and Faith

Here are two choice quotes directly from the pen of Gordon Clark, as written about in a previous post:

... The important question is not whether or not the Bible is true, but whether or not all knowledge is deducible by reason, i.e. by logic alone.

Now, the history of philosophy ... have convincingly answer in the negative.


.. reason without faith not only provides no religion, it supports no knowledge of any kind. ...

[Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation. In The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, Vol. 4 (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2004), 143]

Any discussion of man's mind and powers, to be at all Biblical, must take into account the effects of sin. Calvin, Hodge, and Machen were keenly aware of this. ...

[Quoting Machen with approval] ... So our reason is certainly insufficient to tell us about God, unless he reveals himself; but it is capable (or he would be capable if it were not clouded by sin) of receiving revelation when once it is given.

[Clark, Religion. In Works Vol. 4, 179]

As we can see from these two quotes, Van Til's charge that Clark thinks that reason is unaffected by sin whatsoever is entirely baseless. Perhaps if Van Til and the Van Tillians aren't so eager to demonize Clark then we they would be able to more critically engage the writings of Gordon Clark instead of putting up strawmen and misrepresentation of "the enemy."

Unlike them, I hope to do justice to Van Til's writings. Although analyzing Van Til's thought would not be a high priority, when I critique Van Til, I will attempt to represent him correctly, most definitely much better than the misrepresentation of Clark by Vantillians.

A response to Van Tillian Warren Cruz: Logic, Rationality, and the Fall

Over on his blog, Van Tillian Warren Cruz has posted a recent post attempting to defend the Van Tillian notion of the ontological defect of the reason of Man caused by the Fall. Judging by its temporal proximity to my post critiquing Van Til on this topic, the post seems to be a response to mine. I guess that would most definitely merit a response from me.

As I have read Van Til, the major problem with Van Til is that he is not systematic. It can be clearly seen that Van Til is influenced by the Reformed scholars of his day like Bavinck and Kuyper. This however means only that he uses the terms they use and to some extent embrace what they teach. What is required however for apologetics and interaction with detractors is a sharp mind good at systematizing truths and making the proper distinctions, as well as humility to seek to understand the terms and position of your detractors. That is what makes Reformed Scholasticism the highest peak of Reformed theology so far. Sadly, all of these qualities are lacking in Van Til, and it shows here in this post by Cruz.

The main thrust of the argument by Cruz is that Turretin believes in the same position as Van Til. Van Til, per his hagiographical image, was a solid Reformed scholar merely restating the truths of Reformed theology and applying them to the realm of apologetics. Cruz first states the issue at hand and his belief that the Reformed view is that the effects of sin on reason is more than ethical. Cruz then quotes Turretin with the belief that Turretin's work confirms his Van Tillian position on the effects of sin.

The problem with Cruz's post though is that I as a Clarkian agree 100% with what Turretin wrote, yet I disagree with Cruz's and Van Til's distortion of Turretin's views. That is why I have said earlier that proper definitions of terms and humility to seek to understand the positions of detractors is necessary. It is no use like Van Til to merely state the Reformed view without further systematizing, clarifying and reformulating how the truths held by the Reformed tradition are to be applied to the present day and time. [Of course, Van Til did "build on" the Reformed tradition, if building a straw roof on top of a concrete building while rearranging the concrete pillars is considered "building upon it."]

It is possible to say that "reason" is not affected by the Fall as per Clark, and also hold that "reason" is affected by the Fall as per Turretin. The issue here as always has been definitions, definitions and definitions. What do we mean by the use of our terms? What does Turretin mean by the use of his term? Van Tillians it seems ignore this entire issue, and merely parrot the same objection again and again. Of course, it may well be the case that they have never heard a refutation of this canard, but I seriously doubt that to be the case.

What does Clark mean by "reason"? Does he mean by that the reasoning processes of Man? No. Clark is abundantly clear that the Image of God in Man is the mind and logic. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that is irrelevant for this topic. The main point here is that Clark defines "reason" in this area as the rules of reason, or logic.

We will digress here to a short course in basic logic. Let us start with the simple logical argument: "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is moral." What does logic assert as to this statement? Logic merely shows us whether this argument is valid or invalid (whether the consequence necessarily flows from the premises). It does not supply the premises for the argument, neither does it tell us whether the premises are true or false. Logic furthermore does not even tell us what arguments to evaluate. It is a mere tool. If one inputs true premises into the arguments, logic can tell us whether it is valid, and if it is valid, then the argument is sound. However, if one inputs false premises into the arguments, logic cannot disprove the argument if the structure of the argument is valid. Which is to say, "Rubbish in, rubbish out."

For example, let us look at this argument: "All unicorns are cats. I have seen a unicorn. Therefore I have seen a cat." Logic can only tell us that this argument is valid, but we all know that this argument is nonsensical because unicorns do not exist, unicorns are not cats, and we and everyone else have not seen a unicorn. In other words, the premises of this argument are false and the argument unsound despite the fact that it is valid in form.

Therefore, when Clark states that "reason" is unaffected by the fall ontologically but affected only ethically, it means that unregenerate men after the Fall still use the same logical apparatus as Adam and Eve did, and as regenerate believers still do. Adam and Eve believed in for example the principle of modus tollens as much as Aristotle the pagan did, as much as the Medieval theologian Aquinas did, as much as John Calvin did, and as we do so today. The problem with the unregenerate mind is not their logical apparatus is different, but the way in which they use it. The unregenerate mind is incapable of providing the proper premises for the right argument towards knowing God, and incapable of judging whether the premises of any such arguments to be truth or false correctly.

This brings us to Turretin's quote. When Turretin uses the word "reason," he means the entire reasoning process including the choosing of premises and the assessment of their truth value. Using this definition, Turretin rightly attacks blind reason and the Rationalism of the philosophers, and deny that "sound reason is its [the faith's] principle." In other words, if we talk about the reasoning process as a whole, then of course "reason" defined in this way is very much affected by the Fall. As Cruz kindly reminded us, the bifurcation between reason [understood as the reasoning process] and will is "undue and coerced."

As it can be seen, Clarkians stand in the Reformed tradition with Turretin. It is however Van Til who distorts the Reformed teaching by adding to it the ontological effects of reason in the Fall, something none of the Reformers and Reformed scholastics ever did. In fact, the Reformed scholastics embraced Aristotelianism to a very large extent in its form and vocabulary (though not so much content), so it would be indeed strange, even impossible if their minds which were shaped by Aristotelian categories would reject one of those categories.

As a last word, Van Tillians really need to stop reading Van Til into the writings of the Reformers and their successors. It is manifestly unscholarly and anachronistic, and those of us who DO read the works of the Reformed tradition are not impressed with the mangling of the primary sources in the service of an ideology based upon the veneration of one sinful man.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Van Til and the confusion between creation and redemption

It is this sort of basis that Kuyper and Warfield alike maintained the basic unity of science [here understood generically as a rigorous intellectual discipline, not just what we normally mean by the empirical sciences]. God is certain to attain his end with mankind. In the face of Satan, he will cause men to develop and bring to fruition the potentialities that he himself has deposited within the universe. Whether willingly or unwillingly, whether conspicuously or inconspicuously, all men, and Satan too, contribute to the realization of the purpose of God with man and his universe. ...

... And God had determined that through Christ as Redeemer mankind would accomplish the task assigned it. Only on the basis of the work of Christ, then, does the unity of science actually exist and will it be actually consummated. True, the work of Christ must be thought of as immediately and directly effecting the salvation of men. But in saving men and in saving mankind Christ saves science. The unity of science may therefore be said to be Christological in a secondary sense.

— Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed. (ed. by K. Scott Oliphant; Phillisburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 178

Cornelius Van Til is often thought to be a giant defending the Reformed faith. The question therefore is whether Kuyperian incipient Reconstructionism will disqualify him.

In the above passage, Van Til believes that Christ came with one result being that mankind would accomplish the task assigned it. The cultural and intellectual strivings of Man will find their ultimate fulfillment when Christ finally comes again and consummate everything showing the unity of science in Christ.

What are we to make of this? The first thing we can see is the Kuyperian emphasis on the importance of the cultural and intellectual strivings of Man. However in Scripture, is there such an emphasis on such strivings? While certainly those strivings that honor God glorify Him, the focus of Scripture seem to be elsewhere.

These strivings of Man are a part of the Cultural Mandate. As such, it belongs to creation, not redemption. Christ therefore cannot "save" science, as if science however defined is a person which Christ died for. Christ died for sinners, and the elect who were and are sinners. Christ did not die for science or culture, or business or government! Christ shed His precious blood to redeem sinners, not institutions.

In a footnote, the editor K Scott Oliphant sees this as the principle "in which the work of Christ extends to the benefits of the nonelect." In other words, a Kuyperian view confusing creation and redemption; culture and the church, seems to be the basis of Van Til's idea of the well-meant offer. According to this view, Christ came to enable Man to complete the Cultural Mandate and therefore since all things will be consummated in Christ, there is a very real sense that those who are nonelect will get to partake of the benefits of Christ. From this, one could very well say that in some sense Christ died for the nonelect, and from there to the well-meant offer is not that far off.

All of this fail to differentiate between creation and redemption; between Adam and Christ. Christ died for particular people only. Christ is Savior of the Elect in redemption, but He functions differently as Creator and King of all men due to creation. Christ's role in redemption is different from creation, a truth that Van Til failed to grasp.

In this light, we have all the more reason to reject the unbiblical teaching of the well-meant offer. The Gospel offer is unconditional to and for all, but it is not well-meant. We are not to attempt to peer behind the veil at God's secret sovereign will (Deut. 29:29), or by confusing creation with redemption universalize the saving work of Christ in some fashion.

A critique of Van Til's analogy of the fallen mind

[Because of the Fall] The intellect of fallen man may, as such, be keen enough. It can therefore formally understand the Christian position. It may be compared to a buzz-saw that is sharp and shining, ready to cut the boards that come to it. Let us saw that a carpenter wishes to cut fifty boards for the purpose of laying the floor of a house. He has marked his boards. He has set his saw. He beings at one end of the mark on the board. But he does not know that his seven-year old son has tampered with the saw and changed its set. The result is that every board he saws is cut slantwise and thus unusable because [the board is] too short except at the point where the saw first made its contact with the wood. As long as the set of the saw is not changed, the result will always be the same.

— Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed. (ed. by K. Scott Oliphant; Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 97

In this interesting book, Cornelius Van Til came up with an analogy to describe what he thinks is the Reformed view of the noetic effects of sin. Van Til's point that he is trying to prove here is that sin affects the intellect, and therefore unregenerate men cannot reason alright of the things of God. In this light, Van Til and his supporters critique Gordon Clark as being a "rationalist" because Clark believes that the thinking apparatus is not affected by the fall.

With this in mind, let us analyze this analogy. We note here that the carpenter in Van Til's analogy has a nice working saw, which is analogous to reason. However, his saw has been tampered with, so that he cannot cut the boards alright. This is supposed to be analogous to the Fall causing Man's reason to be defective so he cannot properly reason. Man's reason is therefore still working but fundamentally defective because of Man's fall into sin.

We note however that in this analogy, the carpenter tries to cut the board correctly. The problem is in his tampered saw which is not working as it should. The carpenter it seems genuinely attempts to cut straight boards, but his task is forever doomed to failure because of his defective instrument.

Translated into the picture of Man and reason, this is analogous to fallen Man being genuinely desirous to know God, but his reason is defective thus he cannot do so no matter how much he desires it.

Is this the picture of Man that we want to have? Scripture is clear that the problem with Man is ethical, something which Van Til did agree with in principle. If the problem with Man is ethical, then the inability of Man to know God is not because he is trying to know God and fails to do so because of his defective reason, but because Man does not want to know God and tries as much as possible to excise God from his world. It is therefore Man who uses his intellect to reject God, not that his defective intellect is trying to do the impossible task of knowing God.

Van Til's analogy is severely defective, and does not express the Reformed and biblical view of the effects of sin on Man. To think of reason as being a good saw with a defective set is to make the effect of the Fall in reason an intellectual defect; an ontological defect of reason.

If we believe that the Fall affected Man's reason ethically and not ontologically, then we must insist, using the same analogy, that the saw and its set are fine. The problem lies with the carpenter not his tools. The carpenter is in rebellion against his boss who has called upon him to cut wood boards in a certain way. The carpenter therefore [willingly] alters the set or just cut the wood boards any way he wants, so that the cut boards are not what they were supposed to be.

So deep is Man's rebellion against God from the time of conception that such rebellion may be done even at the subconscious level. Thus, Man may be deluded by his own intellect to believe he is "merely following the evidences" and therefore seen to be someone who objectively rejects God because his intellect has "deduced" that the Christian God does not exist. God and His truths are rejected a priori and then the unregenerate man's sharp intellect is left to figure out a working system that seems at least on the surface to be logical and consistent.

Van Til's analogy of the fallen mind is therefore flawed. Upon such flawed analogies, Van Til and his followers have attacked the teachings of Clark on this and other subjects. The reason of Man however is not ontologically flawed in unregenerate Man. Rather, the noetic effects of the Fall refer to the usage of reason contrary to its intended goal of receiving the revelation of God. There is nothing ontologically wrong with reason per se, and we should in this light reject Van Til's analogy of the fallen mind and the novel teaching behind it.

Of course, it may be asked, didn't Van Til say explicitly that the effect of the Fall on reason is ethical? Indeed, he did. But the issue is not whether Van Til said it, but whether his more detailed teaching on the topic supports his profession that the effects of the Fall pertain to the ethical aspect only. To attempt to hold to two contradictory position is impossible, yet Van Til it seems has no problems with believing in two contradictory things.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Paper: The Receiving of the Spirit: Monergism in Gal. 3:1-5

For my exegetical paper last semester, the passage I have chosen is Gal. 3:1-5. As most of us would probably know, many passages in Romans and Galatians lie at the heart of the controversy over the so-called "New Perspective on Paul." While the interpretation of this particular passage, Gal. 3:1-5, is not as hotly contested as passages such as Gal. 2:16, the implication of the teachings of Gal. 3:1-5 I am convinced has a lot to speak to us to the issues involved.

In this light, now that my exegetical paper has finally been released, I would like to share it with everyone here. Do note that as this is just a paper not a book, so do not expect me to interact and refute every single argument related to the New Perspective on Paul or anything along that line. The goal of the exegetical paper is to exegete the passage, not primarily to exegete it as a polemic against the New Perspective heresy.

An excerpt:

The book of Galatians is a fascinating polemical work from the pen of the Apostle Paul. According to New Testament Scholar James D.G. Dunn, in Galatians we have “theology in the raw, red-blooded theology, quintessential paulinism.” F. F. Bruce states that Galatians widely holds “primary of importance among the writings of Paul,” having close affinity with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The still ongoing debate engendered by the New Perspective on Paul has focused on various texts in Romans and Galatians especially with regards to the phrase εξ εργων νομου. This phrase as well as the parallel phrase πιστεως Ιησου Χριστου has been much debated. In the midst of this debate, the significance of the passage of Gal 3:1-5 has been less noticed. In this light, I would like to look at the passage of Gal. 3:1-5 and see what it teaches us with regards to the issue of salvation and the law.